Climate change, chaos, and cannibalism

Forty eight years ago, a sci-fi thriller predicted a future with all three—in the year 2022.

In the 70s an often-forgotten film predicted climate change, chaos, and cannibalism in America's not-so-distant future.


Well, we're underachieving on the cannibalism, but if you count the coronavirus as "chaos," we're doing fine on the other two.

Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, premiered nationwide on May 9, 1973, to mixed reviews. In a year when The Exorcist and The Sting lapped the field, its box office take did not make the top 25 films.

Set in a hungry, desperate New York City beset by pollution, overpopulation, and a climate where the temperature stays above a humid 90° F, life is so awful that euthanasia is not only legal, it's often welcomed.

The year of this future hellscape? 2022.

Aided by Hollywood legend Edward G. Robinson, Heston investigates the murder of one of the city's elite, the CEO of the Soylent Corp. Soylent provides roughly half the world with its nutrition in bland soy-and-lentil wafers marketed as Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow.

When the tastier, protein-rich Soylent Green hits the market, food riots ensue, and Heston sleuths the new, secret ingredient.

A Heston digression 

Charlton Heston's remarkable career is worth a few paragraphs. A World War II veteran, he built a strong Hollywood resume as a 1950's action hero. But Heston became Hollywood royalty through three Judeo-Christian-based epics: He parts the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments (1956); ruins the chariot-racing Romans in Ben-Hur (1959); and trolls the Son of God in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

Meanwhile, Heston became a liberal Hollywood icon by stumping for the Civil Rights Act, and, in 1968, in favor of gun control. And his signature film work took an abrupt turn from a biblical past to a dystopian future.

Planet of the Apes (1968) starred Heston as an astronaut inadvertently propelled into a future where apes, chimps and orangutans dominate, thanks to evolutionary changes brought on by nuclear war. The box office smash also devolved into four sequels, two short-lived TV series, two remakes, and two more sequels.

Soylent Green never rated any sequels, but it preceded an abrupt political turn by Heston, who spent the last decades of his life as a conservative icon and president of the National Rifle Association.

"We have met the entrée, and he is us."

Soylent green

And now, back to Soylent Green ...

The movie may have sounded ominous warnings about climate change on filthy Manhattan streets, but it also depicted young women as "furniture" at the disposal of the rich.

Clean air and water, overconsumption, resource exhaustion and other 21st century themes abound in this clumsy, dated film.

Oh, and did Mr. Heston ever figure out the secret to Soylent Green's high-protein success? To paraphrase the 20th Century swamp philosopher Pogo, "We have met the entrée, and he is us."

Yes, as Heston shrieks at movie's end, "Soylent Green is people!"

Or, as modern-day talkshow guests are so fond of saying, "Thanks for having me."

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: Charlton Heston in Soylent Green. (Bill Lile/flickr)

apnews.com

Doctors warn of burns from asphalt as heat wave hits US West

Doctors who work in Arizona and Nevada burn centers are warning of injuries from contact with super-heated roadways and other surfaces as the first extreme heat wave of the year extends across the U.S.

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

www.sierraclub.org

Can we save the San Joaquin's salmon?

As California's population grows, water shortages deepen, and the impacts of climate change intensify, the effort to restore a river and its fish is an expensive and resource-intensive gamble.

grist.org

Salad will survive climate change. But at what cost?

In order to maintain American's year-round demand for salad, more growers are looking into moving delicate crops like baby greens indoors.
www.wesa.fm

New ‘Toxic 10’ list outlines worst industrial polluters in Allegheny County

The 10 biggest industrial air polluters in Allegheny County released higher levels of toxic emissions in recent years.
www.post-gazette.com

PA: Impact fee payments shrink as natural gas price, drilling declined in 2020

Low natural gas prices and scant new drilling sent Pennsylvania's impact fee revenue from shale gas wells plummeting to the lowest level on record for the 2020 reporting year, according to Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission data released this week.

Republicans aim again to block governor's climate strategy

Republicans who control Pennsylvania's Legislature are reprising a fight from last year, passing legislation Monday to require Gov. Tom Wolf to go through them if he wants to impose a price on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

theintercept.com

Intercepted: Stealing children to steal the land

Naomi Klein speaks to the legendary Manuel family about the uncovering of a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children.